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Resilient housing joins the machine learning revolution

Sarah Elizabeth Antos's picture
Also available in: Español | Français  | 中文 

 World Bank

Machine learning algorithms are excellent at answering “yes” or “no” questions. For example, they can scan huge datasets and correctly tell us: Does this credit card transaction look fraudulent? Is there a cat in this photo?

But it’s not only the simple questions – they can also tackle nuanced and complex questions.

Today, machine learning algorithms can detect over 100 types of cancerous tumors more reliably than a trained human eye. Given this impressive accuracy, we started to wonder: what could machine learning tell us about where people live? In cities that are expanding at breathtaking rates and are at risk from natural disasters, could it warn us that a family’s wall might collapse during an earthquake or rooftop blow away during a hurricane?

When disasters displace people, land records and geospatial data are key to protect property rights and build resilience

Anna Wellenstein's picture
 


Droughts, floods, hurricanes, and other disasters displaced over 24 million people in 2016. When people leave their homes behind, land records offer critical protection of their property rights. This is crucial, as land and homes are usually the main assets that people have. Land and geospatial information is key to ensure that land records are comprehensive and secure.

Land and geospatial information tells the what, who, where, how much, and other key attributes of a property. Without this information, it is almost impossible for cities and communities to develop proper disaster response or preparedness plans.

Comprehensive land and geospatial systems can secure the resilient recovery of economic activities – by providing accessible and instant data on disaster impact, the value of losses, the beneficiaries, as well as the levels of appropriate compensation and required investment to restore activities.

Building safer and more resilient homes in post-earthquake Nepal

Anna Wellenstein's picture
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Two earthquakes that struck Nepal in 2015 killed 9,000 people and left thousands homeless. Recovery has been a major challenge to which the government and development partners have rallied.

In this video, Anna Wellenstein, Director of Strategy and Operations in the World Bank’s Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Global Practice, and Kamran Akbar, Senior Disaster Risk Specialist in the World Bank’s Nepal office, discuss the resilient reconstruction program undertaken by the Nepalese.


Under this program, the government of Nepal has supported over 650,000 households to build back their homes stronger and more resilient to natural disasters. 

The program includes innovative approaches that help ensure the country is building back better, building a cadre of tradesmen skilled in resilient construction, and increasing financial access for beneficiary families. 

These good practices not only apply to World Bank-funded reconstruction, but to the overall program supported by the Nepalese government and donors, creating country-wide and lasting impacts for a safer and more resilient Nepal.

UN-Habitat Executive Director: Let’s work together to implement the New Urban Agenda

Sameh Wahba's picture
During the Ninth Session of the World Urban Forum (WUF9) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the World Bank delegation met with Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Program (UN-Habitat).

Ms. Sharif became the Executive UN-Habitat in December 2017, succeeding Joan Clos of Spain. She was previously Mayor of the City Council of Penang Island, Malaysia, where she led the Municipal Council of Seberang Perai to achieve its vision of a “cleaner, greener, safer and healthier place to work, live, invest and play.”

In 2011, Ms. Sharif was the first woman to be appointed president of the Municipal Council of Seberang Perai, where she collaborated with the World Bank on urban development projects.

Under Ms. Sharif’s leadership, UN-Habitat has focused WUF9’s theme on “Cities 2030, Cities for all: Implementing the New Urban Agenda” as a tool and accelerator for achieving Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Watch a video blog of UN-Habitat Executive Director Maimunah Mohd Sharif (@MaimunahSharif) and World Bank Director Sameh Wahba (@SamehNWahba) where they discuss the importance of collaboration and partnership for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
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“But what about Singapore?” Lessons from the best public housing program in the world

Abhas Jha's picture
Also available in: Mongolian | Chinese
 
Photo of Singapore by Lois Goh / World Bank

 
As we approach the 9th World Urban Forum in Kuala Lumpur next week, one of the essential challenges in implementing the New Urban Agenda that governments are struggling with is the provision at scale of high quality affordable housing, a key part of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 of building sustainable cities and communities.
 
When I worked on affordable housing in Latin America, one consistent piece of advice we would give our clients was that it is not a good idea for governments to build and provide housing themselves. Instead, in the words of the famous (and sadly late) World Bank economist Steve Mayo, we should enable housing markets to work. Our clients would always respond by saying, “But what about Singapore?” And we would say the Singapore case is too sui generis and non-replicable.

[Learn more about the World Bank's participation in the World Urban Forum]
 
Now, having lived in the beautiful red-dot city state for two and half years, and seeing up close the experience of public housing in Singapore, one is struck by elements of the Singapore housing experience that are striking for its foresight and, yes, its replicability!
 
Singapore’s governing philosophy has famously been described as “think ahead, think again and think across.” Nowhere is this more apparent than how the founding fathers designed the national housing program, and how it has adapted and evolved over the years, responding to changed circumstances and needs.

It is hard to believe today but in 1947 the British Housing Committee reported that 72% of a total population of 938,000 of Singapore was living within the 80 square kilometers that made up the central city area. When Singapore attained self-government in 1959, only 9% of Singaporeans resided in public housing. Today, 80% of Singaporeans live a government built apartment. There are about one million Housing and Development Board (HDB) apartments, largely clustered in 23 self-contained new towns that extend around the city’s coastal core.
 
How has Singapore succeeded where so many other countries have failed dismally? At the risk of over-simplification, there seem to be four essential ingredients to this astonishing success story:

Let’s make a deal for resilient cities

Carina Lakovits's picture
Photo credit: humphery / Shutterstock.com
JIANGXI CHINA-July 1, 2017: In Eastern China, Jiujiang was hit by heavy rain, and many urban areas were flooded. The vehicles were flooded, and the citizens risked their passage on flooded roads.
Photo credit: humphery / Shutterstock.com
For the first time in history, more people live in cities than in rural areas. Although cities hold the promise of a better future, the reality is that many cities cannot live up to expectations. Too often, cities lack the resources to provide even the most basic services to their inhabitants, and cities all over the world fail to protect their people effectively against the onslaught of natural disasters or climate change.

Much of this has to do with the lack of adequate infrastructure that can defend against the impacts of floods, sea level rise, landslides or earthquakes. Most cities need better flood defenses, better constructed houses, and better land use planning. But even when cities know what it takes to become more resilient, most often they do not have access to the necessary funding to realize this vision.

It is estimated that worldwide, investments of more than $4 trillion per year in urban infrastructure will be needed merely to keep pace with expected economic growth, and an additional $1 trillion will be needed to make this urban infrastructure climate resilient.  It is clear that the public sector alone, including development finance institutions like the World Bank, will not be able to generate these amounts—not by a long stretch.

Natural disasters are in 3D – and the rights that protect against them should be as well

Luis Triveno's picture
Photo credit: studiovin/Shutterstock


The recent series of devastating hurricanes in the Caribbean has reminded the world, once again, that natural disasters are not equal-opportunity destroyers. The economically marginalized and those lacking secure land and property rights are often disproportionately affected for at least three reasons:

  • First, without secure property rights, they typically lack the long-term incentive and access to credit to build safe, resilient houses
  • Second, they can be reluctant to flee their homes to safe areas, fearing they won’t be allowed to return. 
  • Finally, they are less likely to be the recipients of government risk mitigation or recovery efforts.  Government recovery efforts – no matter how well intentioned – rarely reach those most in need.  After the floods and landslides in Nepal in 2011, for example, only 6% of the poorest received government support – compared to almost 90% of the well off.  

The increasing frequency of natural disasters with tragic human consequences should also serve as reminders that resources spent on disaster risk reduction (DRR) are much more effective at saving lives and property loss. Yes, despite substantial evidence that reducing disaster risk is more cost-effective than responding to disasters, expenditures for disaster response and reconstruction exceed spending on disaster risk reduction and preparedness at a rate of about 20 to 1.

To overcome that spending gap will require innovative thinking on a time-tested idea. Governments, the World Bank, and other donors are doing the right thing when trying to devote more resources to disaster risk reduction – and to make land and property rights reforms part of a multi-faceted DRR strategy. In doing so, they would do even better by recognizing that those rights exist in three dimensions, encompassing not just the ground beneath our feet but to the space above (and below) it.

A road by any other name: street naming and property addressing system in Accra, Ghana

Linus Pott's picture
Street names in Accra, Ghana
Street names in Accra, Ghana. Photo credit: Ben Welle/ Flickr CC
When I used to work in Rwanda, I lived on a small street in Kigali. Every time I invited friends over, I would tell them to “walk past the Embassy, look out for the Church, and then continue to the house with the black gate.” The day a street sign was erected on my street was a game changer.
 
So how do more than two million citizens of Accra navigate the busy city without the help of street names? While some street names are commonly known, most streets do not have any official name, street sign or house number. Instead, people usually refer to palm trees, speed bumps, street vendors, etc.

But, what happens when the palm tree is cut or when the street vendor changes the location?

The absence of street names poses not only challenges for orientation, but also for property tax collection, postal services, emergency services, and the private sector. Especially, new economy companies, such as Amazon or Uber, depend on street addressing systems and are eager to cater to market demands of a growing middle class.

To address these challenges, the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA), financed by the World Bank’s second Land Administration Project , is implementing a street addressing and property numbering system in Accra. Other Metropolitan areas received funding from other World Bank-funded projects for similar purposes.
 

Making homes safer to build resilient cities

Kristina Wienhoefer's picture

Children are often told that home is where to run inside when thunders hit or when the rain comes, and that home is a safe place. However, for billions of people in the world, it is not.
 
By 2030, it is estimated that 3 billion people will be at risk of losing a loved one or their homes—usually their most important assets—to natural disasters. In fact, the population living on flood plains or cyclone-prone coastlines is growing twice as faster as the population in safe homes in safer areas.
 
Due to climate change, extreme weather and other natural hazard events hit these populations harder and more often. The 10 natural disasters causing the most property damages and losses in history have occurred since 2005. The damages and losses were highly concentrated in the housing sector. While the poor experience 11% of total of asset losses, they suffer 47% of all the well-being losses. Worse, natural disasters can lead to unnecessary losses of life, with earthquakes alone causing 44,585 deaths on average per year. This is an issue that policymakers and mayors need to address if they don’t want their achievements in poverty reduction to be erased by the next hurricane or earthquake.

World Bank Group

Five lessons on affordable housing provision from Indonesia

Dao Harrison's picture
When first-time homeowner Dewi moved into her new house in the Yogyakarta area a year ago, thanks to a government subsidy program, she thought: everything is perfect.
 
Well, not quite. Located an hour away from the city center, Dewi’s house is far from employment opportunities, shopping, and schooling for her two children. Two years after completion, more than half the housing development remains unoccupied. Because the house is not connected to the local water system, Dewi buys water twice a week. When seasonal floods are underway, the heavy rains impede access to her house.



Providing affordable and adequate housing has become a top policy priority for the government of Indonesia with the launch of Satu Juta Rumah (One Million Homes) program. Previous efforts to address the demand for affordable housing – a function of both new annual demand creation and an unmet housing deficit – had not effectively improved housing outcomes at the scale necessary.
Source:  Ministry of Public Works and Housing, Indonesia

But should homeownership volume be the sole indicator of a successful housing subsidy program? Is it possible to have a program that meets the government’s needs to be fiscally and economically cost effective, while also responding to the private market as well as the needs of residents?
 
Options are being explored. The recently approved National Affordable Housing Program Project (NAHP), for example, aims to innovate the affordable housing market by addressing bottlenecks and actively engaging the private sector in delivering for unserved segments. So far, Indonesia’s efforts provide valuable lessons. The lessons are:


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